I am going to be perfectly honest. When I was asked by the PR firm that invited me to attend this event in Snowmass which chefs I wanted to interview; I looked carefully at the top three featured chefs. How could I not interview Hosea Rosenberg, winner of Top Chef in 2009 and a Boulder boy through and through? Then there was Alex Seidel of FruitionFood and Wine magazine as one of the Best New Chefs in 2010? He’s a damn rock star…buying a farm and providing veggies not just for his restaurant but others in Denver as well.
No, I didn’t seek out Richard SandovalDiane Henderiks? Sure I thought; why not?
Well, that ‘sure why not attitude’ on my part is really a testament to Chef Sandoval’s entire way of thinking. It’s about the food…not fame, fortune or name brand recognition. To tell you the truth…I’ve eaten at his La Sandia Restaurant in Lone Tree, CO adjacent to the Park Meadows Mall. That place where I remember having the BEST Chile Relleno ever and a view of the Front Range that can almost make you think you are in the mountains!. He’s the owner? Really? It seems that Richard is fine with that. He is both the owner and CEO of his restaurant business and his hands on way of doing business is admirable, especially since we are talking about 27 different restaurants from Dubai to the one where we met, Venga Venga in Snowmass, CO. In Denver alone, in addition to La Sandia, he also owns Zengo, a unique fusion of Latin and Asian cuisine and Tamayo in the heart of Denver’s historic Larimer Square. Warm, down to earth and utterly charming…I was hooked on both the man and his food! And this will probably not come as a huge surprise to my friends…yes I did setup his Twitter account @Chef_Sandoval and we’ll be talking about a tweetup at La Sandia to happen before the summer is over!
I met with both Richard and Diane to get to know them a bit, hear their individual philosophies and their plans for a book to be published and available in the last quarter of 2012. A book that would bring Chef Sandoval’s personal experience and ethics to the project and Diane’s experience with nutrition. Now, if that sounds boring…well, I’ve done as bad a job of stating the obvious as my mind did in putting a spin on Diane before I met her. Seems I had a built in idea of a nutritionist. Wheat grass and all. I was not expecting the firecracker I got to know over this weekend. I told her when I first saw her in the culinary tent directing everyone with her, “Come on people, let’s get this show on the road” attitude that I thought she was a handler for the chefs coming out. These two have known each other since meeting at a culinary event 5 years ago when their booths were adjacent. Their easy relationship is sure to be reflected in their book too.
Diane (with some friends at Tapas and Tequila Tasting on Friday Night) is, by her own description, a true product of the Jersey Shore…not like those idiots we have had force fed to us by the media. Smart, sassy and a veritable library of culinary information…yes, I did, I learned something from her! Some tips I gleaned from one of her presentations:
- Ever made popcorn in coconut oil. She insists it is To. Die. For.
- Like me, she has a plastic bottle with a pointed spout (like ketchup and mustard squirters) that she uses to drizzle olive oil into a pan for heating. Unlike me, she uses much less oil! Give your oil time to heat and melt a bit and it will cover the bottom of the pot.
- Ever used barley when making risotto? Try it…it’s quicker yet still creamy.
- Pesto is not just for basil anymore. Try using a variety of herbs and nuts to create a pesto. She’s used tarragon and that really struck a nerve. I almost have a tarragon tree in the backyard. She mentioned she uses cashews instead of pine nuts; I’m going to try some toasted walnuts instead. Hmm, walnut/tarragon pesto anyone?
- Dry roast your grains in the pan before adding any liquids in the recipe. I always do this when I make a dish using pearl couscous that I love…but not so much rice or other grains. Will do ma’am.
- A simple rule of thumb? The more color on your plate, the more nutrition. And no, I’m not talking Jello shooters.
I attended several sessions in the Viking Culinary tent with either Richard or his staff and Diane. I loved the Shrimp Jalisco dish that Diane and Chef Barry from Richards’ Venga Venga Restaurant made together. Using more peppers and less fat she delivered a most satisfying take on one of Venga Venga’s specialties. I actually ordered the dish for dinner that evening to see if the impact on my palette would be noticeable…and was excited it was not. I want this book now!
Until then, we can all be thankful that recipes from her appearances on Good Morning America are available online; visit their website for a library of Diane’s recipes.
I hope to get the Jalisco Shrimp recipe from Diane when she finds the time to actually write it down…but in the meantime, she has shared her recipe for a favorite, Grilled Romaine Lettuce. Yes, lettuce. Grilling the romaine imparts a great smokey flavor to this lettuce which softens just a bit from the heat. Another great opportunity to use some of the abundance of fresh garden herbs to mix it up a bit. Enjoy! (I hope you love the artful styling of the plastic fork on the paper plate!!)
I couldn’t leave you without one more picture of this beautiful place. Remember a guy named Leonardo Dicaprio and his claim, ‘I’m the King of the World!’ when he was on the bow of the Titanic. He had apparently never been to the top of Snowmass Mountain. It is breathtaking.
- 2 heads of romaine lettuce
- Olive oil: a few tablespoons to drizzle lettuce and ¼ cup for the dressing
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon minced red pepper
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Turn grill to medium high heat.
- Slice heads of romaine in half lengthwise. Drizzle sliced side with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In a separate bowl mix the olive oil, vinegar, red pepper, herbs, garlic and Parmesan cheese.
- Place lettuce sliced side down on the grill. Grill for about 3 minutes until lettuce is charred.
- Chop lettuce into large chunks or cut the lettuce head half into spears. Sprinkle with dressing (toss if making the chopped version) and serve warm.
One last post on Snowmass the end of next week will highlight the facilities and the food. Ah the food. :)